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With Due Respect

Solving the SC’s heavy caseload

For a long time, even before I joined it in 1995, the Supreme Court has struggled in managing its heavy caseload. As early as 1989, barely two years after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the Court, in Francisco v. Permskul (May 12, 1989), already noted “the tremendous number of cases” filed amid the restored freedom and democracy in our country.

Frustrated at the huge number of cases that had accumulated since then, the unanimous Court, in Gio-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2019), candidly admitted it had a “staggering” 14,491 cases in its docket as of Dec. 31, 2016. On this basis, each of the 15 justices carried an average of 966 cases, clearly a gargantuan load too heavy to shoulder.

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Knowing that the Supreme Court of the United States (Scotus) does not have a backlog, the Court sent the decision writer, Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, on a learning visit to the United States to study how the Scotus is able to decide all its cases within one year. Recently, J Jardeleza (now retired) sent me a copy of his report.

His report tracked the earlier Philippine solutions, including the use of minute and unsigned resolutions, and the routing to the Court of Appeals of judgments of quasi-judicial agencies like the National Labor Relations Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as reviews of verdicts imposing the capital penalty. But he did not track the reforms initiated by the various CJs.

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Nonetheless, he specifically cited the Committee on Zero Backlog I created on Jan. 26, 2006 during my incumbency as CJ (he included the resolution creating it as Annex A). While awaiting the Committee’s report, the Court practiced a judicial “bayanihan” whereby old cases were surrendered to a pool from which justices with light caseloads voluntarily plucked and decided them. After I left, the Court, for reasons unknown to me, abandoned the practice.

On July 31, 2007 (after I had retired), the Court approved the recommendations of the Committee to “(1) …accept only 500 cases for signed decisions in the next 6.5 years… and (2) …maintain its output of 1,000 signed decisions until the backlog is cleared. The Court may thereafter decide to accept anywhere from 500 to 1,000 cases per year for signed decisions.” The rest of the cases were to be decided via minute resolutions.

Obviously, the Court failed to implement the approved recommendations because, instead of being reduced, its caseload had grown steadily since then. And so, J Jardeleza, citing his study of how the Scotus cleared its docket, recommended a better method of case selection and docket management via smart technology.

Thus, he asked the Court to differentiate and track separately (1) the cases falling under its original jurisdiction from those under its appellate jurisdiction, and (2) the cases (a) denied outright, (b) ordered to file comment, and (c) given due course for a full, signed decision, with strict deadlines.

He also suggested the shortening of the periods for filing “Comments” to only 10 days for Division cases and 20 days for En Banc cases, without extensions and without requiring “Replies” except in “extremely meritorious cases,” and 20 days for the “Memoranda,” also without extensions.

Notably, CJ Diosdado M. Peralta began his term by launching his “Ten-Point Program,” the first of which is the “Elimination of backlog in the Supreme Court and all other courts” (see my 1/12/20 column).

Together with a faithful implementation of the reports of the Committee on Zero Backlog and of J Jardeleza, the Court, I think, will finally solve the perennial problem of “justice delayed is justice denied.”

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CJ Peralta is noted for giving reforms transparency and permanency by integrating them in the Rules of Court. If these reforms are indeed integrated in the Rules, it would be easy to track their progress in finally ending the backlog.

Please join the roundtable discussion via Zoom tomorrow, Aug. 24, 2-4 p.m., on the “Philippine Foreign Investment Rules” as they relate to the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement. Organized by the Asean Law Institute, the Asean Law Association (Philippine Chapter), and the Asian Institute of Management, the webinar will examine how lawyers, businessmen, and the nation can benefit from the investment pact amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom at: https://up-edu.zoom.us/j/976413759 Meeting ID: 976 4761 3759 Passcode: dmC3dZ7G

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